MADRID (NS) – As holders Barcelona put one foot in the King’s Cup final with an entertaining 1-0 victory over Valencia on Thursday, the atmosphere in the stadium was subdued with the Nou Camp only half-full.

Despite Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and club-record signing Philippe Coutinho all being involved in the showpiece semi-final first leg, involving the sides first and third in La Liga, the official attendance figure was just 50,959.

That was Barcelona’s second-worst attendance of the season, after their Champions League dead rubber against Sporting Lisbon in December.

“I’m not sure what we can do to incentivise fans,” coach Ernesto Valverde said.

“I guess the kickoff time does not help. It finishes late, people are working, it’s winter. We just try to allow those who do come to enjoy themselves.”

It is a problem the King’s Cup has faced all season. Real Madrid, with their 81,000 capacity Bernabeu stadium, only sold 46,409 tickets for their quarter-final tie against local rivals Leganes last month.

There were also more than 15,000 empty seats for Atletico Madrid’s home encounter with Sevilla in the same round.

There are a number of reasons why attendances are lower for King’s Cup matches than for league fixtures.

The competition’s two-legged format means fans could have four extra games to attend in January and early February, immediately after Spain’s prolonged festive period in what is traditionally the most frugal period of the year.

Other factors include adverse weather conditions, late mid-week kickoffs and the fact that Cup games are shown on terrestrial television.

They all combine to ensure that in its current format, the King’s Cup shows few signs of whetting fans’ appetites.

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